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Behind the Work

The Black Plaque Project

The Black Plaque Project

Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

November 17, 2020

Sam Adio and Ken Abalos of Havas London chat about a meaningful campaign with an aim to address racial imbalance within one of the city’s most recognised historical schemes.

"We truly believe that advertising has the power to change the world for the better"

If you’ve visited London, you might have noticed its famous blue plaques, pinned to buildings throughout the city to commemorate notable men and women who have shaped British history. While more than 950 plaques are scattered across the capital as part of the scheme, just 1.6% of those honoured are of African or Caribbean descent. The Black Plaque Project, an exciting campaign by Havas London and support group Nubian Jak Community Trust, aimed to address the imbalance by installing specially designed black plaques to celebrate the lives of London’s most notable Black residents. Sam Adio, Art Director, and Ken Abalos, Junior Creative of Havas London, chat about the initiative and why the project is so meaningful to them on a personal level. 

 

What sparked the concept of Black Plaques?  

As a team, we love coming up with spec ideas. On the back of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, we knew we had to think of an idea that could help the Black community. Even just a little. 

With the backlash against slave trader statues, we realised that Britain views history through a colonial lens. The fact that only 1.6% of blue plaques in London represent the contributions of the Black community really shows that. Hence, The Black Plaque Project was born. 

We had a long chat with the wider team about getting the execution of the idea right. We didn’t want to make the same mistakes that some other agencies have made when trying to represent marginalised communities. 

When we found out that a charity was already trying to address this imbalance by putting up statues and plaques for historic Black figures, we knew the Nubian Jack Community Trust would be the perfect partner. 

Who are some of the people recognised in the campaign?

With a huge help from our strategists and Dr. Jak Buela from Nubian Jak, we found a range of amazing Black heroes throughout history whose stories have been forgotten. From the first professional footballer to be openly gay, to the only female instrumentalist to get a number one single. We were also mindful to keep the number of men and women as equal as possible, and to represent the LGBTQ+ community. 

The tragic story of Sarah Baartman really stuck with us. It’s funny how she was considered a freak because of her big buttocks but these days, it’s considered trendy. Her story is a modern one, because these features are often seen as “less desirable” when they’re on a Black woman’s body. 

Permissions for 30 plaques have been secured. How does it feel to see your idea solidified permanently in London? 

It feels pretty f*****g cool. It means a lot to us working on initiatives like this and having our voices heard by the higher ups. We’re really, really, really proud of this campaign. We truly believe that advertising isn’t just about selling cheese or butter, it also has the power to change the world for the better. We just hope we’ve helped do that with this campaign. 

Apart from the campaign’s spot on ITV news, what other forms did it take? 

Our main aim for this campaign was education, because everyone knows education is KEY. The achievements of these incredible Black heroes should never be forgotten. So, we also created a website with the help of our network. This website contains bios of all 30 of our heroes, an interactive map to see where the plaques have been/are going to be put up, and podcasts which feature voices from the Black community.

This campaign was launched to commemorate the end of Black History Month in the UK. How important is it that we move away from narrowing the scope of recognition to just one month of the year? 

We think it’s crucial. Black History Month is an amazing way for us to recognise the achievements of the Black community. But if we don’t keep telling these stories all year around, then we’re segregating history. BLM in and of itself has become too commercialised by brands and the Black community knows this. So, we should aim to talk about these heroes and issues all year round, in order to take the first proper step to making truly meaningful change. 

We’d like to say a massive thank you to EVERYONE who was involved in this project. There were a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong, but you all pulled it together like troopers. This wouldn’t have happened without your help. We mean that. 

"We truly believe that advertising has the power to change the world for the better"

If you’ve visited London, you might have noticed its famous blue plaques, pinned to buildings throughout the city to commemorate notable men and women who have shaped British history. While more than 950 plaques are scattered across the capital as part of the scheme, just 1.6% of those honoured are of African or Caribbean descent. The Black Plaque Project, an exciting campaign by Havas London and support group Nubian Jak Community Trust, aimed to address the imbalance by installing specially designed black plaques to celebrate the lives of London’s most notable Black residents. Sam Adio, Art Director, and Ken Abalos, Junior Creative of Havas London, chat about the initiative and why the project is so meaningful to them on a personal level. 

 

What sparked the concept of Black Plaques?  

As a team, we love coming up with spec ideas. On the back of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, we knew we had to think of an idea that could help the Black community. Even just a little. 

With the backlash against slave trader statues, we realised that Britain views history through a colonial lens. The fact that only 1.6% of blue plaques in London represent the contributions of the Black community really shows that. Hence, The Black Plaque Project was born. 

We had a long chat with the wider team about getting the execution of the idea right. We didn’t want to make the same mistakes that some other agencies have made when trying to represent marginalised communities. 

When we found out that a charity was already trying to address this imbalance by putting up statues and plaques for historic Black figures, we knew the Nubian Jack Community Trust would be the perfect partner. 

Who are some of the people recognised in the campaign?

With a huge help from our strategists and Dr. Jak Buela from Nubian Jak, we found a range of amazing Black heroes throughout history whose stories have been forgotten. From the first professional footballer to be openly gay, to the only female instrumentalist to get a number one single. We were also mindful to keep the number of men and women as equal as possible, and to represent the LGBTQ+ community. 

The tragic story of Sarah Baartman really stuck with us. It’s funny how she was considered a freak because of her big buttocks but these days, it’s considered trendy. Her story is a modern one, because these features are often seen as “less desirable” when they’re on a Black woman’s body. 

Permissions for 30 plaques have been secured. How does it feel to see your idea solidified permanently in London? 

It feels pretty f*****g cool. It means a lot to us working on initiatives like this and having our voices heard by the higher ups. We’re really, really, really proud of this campaign. We truly believe that advertising isn’t just about selling cheese or butter, it also has the power to change the world for the better. We just hope we’ve helped do that with this campaign. 

Apart from the campaign’s spot on ITV news, what other forms did it take? 

Our main aim for this campaign was education, because everyone knows education is KEY. The achievements of these incredible Black heroes should never be forgotten. So, we also created a website with the help of our network. This website contains bios of all 30 of our heroes, an interactive map to see where the plaques have been/are going to be put up, and podcasts which feature voices from the Black community.

This campaign was launched to commemorate the end of Black History Month in the UK. How important is it that we move away from narrowing the scope of recognition to just one month of the year? 

We think it’s crucial. Black History Month is an amazing way for us to recognise the achievements of the Black community. But if we don’t keep telling these stories all year around, then we’re segregating history. BLM in and of itself has become too commercialised by brands and the Black community knows this. So, we should aim to talk about these heroes and issues all year round, in order to take the first proper step to making truly meaningful change. 

We’d like to say a massive thank you to EVERYONE who was involved in this project. There were a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong, but you all pulled it together like troopers. This wouldn’t have happened without your help. We mean that. 

Patricia Murphy joined Havas Group in October 2019 as a Senior Editor and Writer. She has a background in digital journalism and content creation.

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